Replacing field crops with trees

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JamesNewell
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Replacing field crops with trees

Postby JamesNewell » 02 Mar 2014, 22:45

I am assuming that it is safe to insert natural genes which do not produce poisons, because those genes have been tested by evolution for millions of years.
There is the line. It isn't save to insert human made genes into plants. It would be good for people to examine my assumption to make sure.

If it is safe to insert natural genes, then we could replace all field crops with trees. That would only partly solve the CO2 warming problem, but it would help quite a bit. It also wouldn't require very much money to develop the needed new trees. If necessary, a group of people doing this as a hobby could achieve that goal.

For food crops, this would mainly be a matter of adding genes to produce proteins in trees like chestnuts, and genes to produce protein and starch into selected fruit trees. Over time, trees would also be bred to produce thick trunks, limbs, and roots, so that they could lock as much carbon out of the atmosphere as possible.

Fiber producing trees could be worked up from similar existing trees.

There would be some other advantages to growing all our food and fiber on trees. Deep rooted trees would get through droughts better than field crops. Also, orchards of trees are much easier to keep weeded than field crops if we don't allow the genetically engineered weed killer and inserted genes system. Over time, weeds will probably become resistant to weed killers in any case, just like insects become resistant to insecticides.

Again, think about my assumption that inserting natural genes is safe.

Jim

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Gwion
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Re: Replacing field crops with trees

Postby Gwion » 04 Mar 2014, 12:11

This answer is in response to your invitation to challenge assumptions not an attempt to be argumentative or disagree for the sake of it! :)
I am assuming that it is safe to insert natural genes which do not produce poisons, because those genes have been tested by evolution for millions of years.

Although most of the early work concerning how genes work was done on prokaryotes like bacteria rather than more complex, multicellular organisms (where it might be even more complicated), it seems that genes do not work in isolation. A group of several separate genes, called an operon, need to work in combination to bring about a regulated action. For example, one of the components of the operon (the structural gene) produces the actual product whilst others such as regulator and operator genes turn the structural gene on or off. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/higher/bi ... evision/1/) Unfortunately (for scientists) the separate parts of the operon are not necessarily close together so the conventional methods of cutting and splicing that are used in gene transplants may well miss an essential part of the controlling mechanism.

“Assuming” it is safe to transplant genes without knowing the whole operon control mechanism is a bit like our early attempts at biological control or other "accidental" or "aesthetic" single species introductions. They may work for us (e.g myxomatosis into UK) or not (e.g. house sparrows to New York, mink & grey squirrels into UK). A different analogy might be to liken it to installing an engine in a car without also fitting a brake, accelerator and clutch.

This doesn’t mean GM has to go wrong but we need to be sure we understand the whole process – or just cross our fingers and hope like we usually do. Of course, scientists do know all about this so we can also trust that they won't make mistakes. :whistle:
.. we could replace all field crops with trees.

Have you considered the relative growth rates of trees cf conventional crops? Also it needs to be borne in mind that much of the productivity of the forests goes into producing wood (xylem) which cannot be used directly as a food source for most animals.

Also, orchards of trees are much easier to keep weeded than field crops ..

Although easier to keep the ground weed-free it is much harder to keep tree canopies pest free and harvesting from trees is inefficient.

Would that I had a useful solution with which to end - but I don't I'm afraid. I think the final answer will be a bit like Nature itself - we'll need to do a little bit of a lot of different things rather than hope there's one single solution.
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JamesNewell
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Re: Replacing field crops with trees

Postby JamesNewell » 04 Mar 2014, 17:07

That we would need to do more than just trees is correct, I think.

I think it would be possible to work out what is needed in helper genes for the few genes we need, proteins and starch. After that, the same protein and starch could be added for each variety of tree. Again, there is the safety issue, however, and I don't know how to answer that, although I do think that it would probably be safe to add genes for protein and starch.

Your point about tree yields needs to be looked into. They are fairly high, although whether or not that would be quite adequate is an important question you raise. I think I remember, for example, that a walnut tree yields about 80 pounds per tree, which means that any tree could be brought up to that level. Then, that could be compared with the amount of food yielded in the same space by field crops.

The production of wood is the whole point. That is what takes carbon dioxide out of the air and locks it away. A further question there is how much world agricultural production is going to be cut by increasing global warming. Field crops with increasing damage from storms, floods, soil erosion, droughts, and hotter summer temperatures in already marginal areas will have declining world yields. So that would be a factor if you did a study to compare a world of tree crops with less CO2 with a world of field crops with more CO2. There is another wrinkle as well. In some research studies, crops grown in a greater amount of carbon dioxide lose some of their nutritional value.

Therefore, your counterarguments are valid, but some further study is needed to see how important the points you raised are.

Jim


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